Biden’s response

Joe Biden issued a statement on the Republican Senators’ letter to Iran:

I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.

This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.

Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran’s leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.

The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.


  1. says

    The Logan Act of 1799:

    Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

    Unfortunately, it’s never been used to prosecute anyone, and probably won’t be now, either.

  2. quixote says

    “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere”

    I can’t say I revere the Senate, and I think the Senate’s shenanigans would make a monkeyhouse look bad, but, considering all that, this nonsense was beneath even that dignity.

  3. says

    @johnthedrunkard @1:

    Treason is specifically defined in the US Constitution as follows: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” So it does not apply here. The Logan Act might or might not apply (I’m seeing conflicting legal opinions about that), but has not been invoked in an extremely long time. None of which excuses the senators concerned for their behavior.

  4. shadow says

    This, and Bibi being invited to congress by boehner could be considered congressional overreach (sticking their noses into the business of the executive branch).

    The executive is the ‘face’ of the US regarding foreign affairs. Treaties are ratified by the legislative branch. Otherwise, we’d have 500+ negotiators for any foreign agreements.

  5. dmcclean says

    Thank you michaelbusch @6 for sharing the thankless duty of patrolling the intertubes calling people out for their ridiculously expansive and uninformed definitions of treason.

  6. John Morales says


    dmcclean, I see you don’t actually dispute anything michaelbusch wrote.

    (Thank you for sharing the thankless duty of patrolling the intertubes calling people out for calling people out)

  7. dmcclean says

    Of course I don’t dispute anything he wrote, that’s why I thanked him for having written it so that I didn’t have to.

    What are you on about?

  8. nathanaelnerode says

    The letter was treason by normal dictionary definitions, but can’t be prosecuted as treason under the US Constitution (which is quite specific). It is a violation of the Logan Act and, worse, is *exactly* the situation the Logan Act was *written for*. This situation is also one of the reasons the US Constitution was passed to replace the Articles of Confederation — to make sure there was a single representative of the US in foreign affairs. (Overseas governments and Native American governments were complaining about inconsistent messages from different state governments within the US.) I saw a very good article about this but have lost it… oh, right, it was in the NEW YORK TIMES…

    There is a better word for what these 47… persons… have done than treason. That word is USURPATION. Treason is often committed on behalf of a foreign government, but in this case it was committed on their *own* behalf personally. They are attempting to put themselves up as the government in place of the actual elected government. Usurpation is generally punishable by death, historically speaking. Unless it’s successful.

    It doesn’t surprise me that many Republicans are heading in the direction of insurrection and usurpation, but it does make the current situation very dangerous.

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